Every single Greek household has a recipe. Gemista are considered healthy, home cooked comfort food. And while there is a standard universal recipe, every cook brings their unique touch and love to this dish!
I grew up eating them stuffed with a mixture of ground beef, rice and vegetables. In other households, they were stuffed only with the rice and vegetables, making it vegan and therefore appropriate for the Greek Orthodox religious fasting days. So while I grew up eating them stuffed with the meat mixture, my husband only ate them with the rice mixture. Both are wonderful, and in the end, it is simply your preference!
This is my sister, Annette’s, favorite dish! When our yiayia Anneta would make this, it was often with her in mind. She would devour the stuffed tomatoes, while I have always loved the stuffed zucchinis and eggplants.
In honor of her birthday today, I decided to make her favorite Greek dish, gemista! Happy Birthday Annette! One day soon we will eat it together again. She, too, makes a divine version of this dish.
Takes a little bit of effort to assemble, but it is very well worth it! I usually make enough to last us a couple of meals.
6 large tomatoes beefsteaks or heirloom
2-3 bell peppers
1 large onion
1 lb ground beef
1/2 cup of white rice
1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1/2 bunch fresh parsley
5 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp dry oregano
Salt & pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
You will begin by hollowing out the vegetables that you will stuff, keeping the insides. Do not discard them, as they will become part of the filling. I collect the vegetable insides in a large bowl to reserve for the stuffing. I reserve the ripest of the tomatoes to grate for its juice to add to the stuffing. So instead of stuffing 6 tomatoes, you will only stuff 5 of them.
Place the hollowed out vegetables into a large, well oiled pan. Do not be cheap on the olive oil here. Drizzle more than you think you need.
Salt & pepper the insides of the hollowed vegetables that you have placed into the pan.
To make the stuffing, pulse together all of the innards of the vegetables, the onion, garlic, and parsley. Transfer that back into the bowl. Add in the juice of the one tomato that you reserved, ground beef, rice, salt, pepper, oregano and olive oil. Using your hands, massage everything together to create a unified mixture.
Fill the cavity of each vegetable with the stuffing mixture all the way to the top. Cover it with the vegetable top that you reserved.
You can wedge in a few potatoes if you like between the vegetables. I like baby potatoes that are small and fit in between. If you do that, season them with salt, pepper and olive oil. Pour in 1/2 cup of water into the bottom of the pan to mix with the olive oil in there.
A little salt and pepper on the vegetable caps and a drizzle of olive oil. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake for and hour. Remove the foil and continue to bake for another 30 minutes or so.
Note that you want to lift one of the caps to be sure that the rice is cooked through and not a stiff hard grain. The vegetables will release liquid. Baking it for the additional time uncovered will evaporate some of that liquid.
Serve it with a slice of feta cheese, and even a slice of crusty peasant bread!